Charcoal Effect Adobe Photoshop Tutorial

God used the night sky as a canvas to paint his masterpiece; man not to be outdone, has not been far behind. Although the vast expanse of the sky is denied to us,  we have strove to leave our imprints on caves, walls, parchment and paper ever since the beginning of our civilization. The same can now  be done on powerful platforms like Adobe Photoshop. What used to be the exclusive domain of the gifted, can now be experienced by the lesser mortals.

Adobe Photoshop enables mere mortals like us to delve into the world of brushes, charcoal, oils and master pieces. With a galore of tools available on Photoshop, any one can create his own master piece. After all, art is a way of expressing oneself. The passion for creativity and colors runs equally amongst all artists and  enthusiasts. This is the chance to dabble into that mysterious but enchanting world of artists.

Charcoal has been one of the most favorite forms of expression of artists through the ages, from the cave painters at Lascaux to the modern day maestros. The defining play of light and shadow, black and white makes it an extremely intriguing medium.

The absence of hues and colors brings into sharp relief the intrinsic qualities of a picture. It is also one of the most exquisite features that Photoshop has to offer on its extensive palette. With the aid of Photoshop, one can transform a staid photograph of a still life or a person into a remarkable work of charcoal art. It is a simple but awe-inspiring trick that can achieved in a few steps to leave one gasping in wonder at one’s own creation.

We choose a beautiful still life photograph by BlackWorld offering very good contrast and well defined shadows. The lighting is particularly notable throwing into good effect the hues of the photograph. The photograph also has very less noise, which means that it is not a grainy picture. In the following steps it is described how this excellent work of photography is transformed into an equally remarkable piece of charcoal painting.

Open the picture in the Photoshop Workspace. This particular work has been done in Photoshop CS4. While the general tools remain the same, earlier versions may have slight changes. The hotkeys for particular functions have been provided in brackets alongside each step.

Step 1 Duplicate the Background Layer [Ctrl+J]

Step 2 – From the menu bar select Filter->Sketch->Chalk & Charcoal and select the settings according to your own specifications.

Step 3 – Now hide the current layer by clicking on the eye alongside the mentioned layer.

Step 4 – Select the Background Layer & Duplicate it once more.

Step 5Desaturate the duplicated layer by going to the menu bar and selecting Image->Adjustments->Desaturate.  [Ctrl+Shift+U]

Step 6 – Once more duplicate the selected layer.

Step 7Invert the selected layer. [Ctrl+I]. The inverted layer would look like this.

Step 8 – Now select the mode button from above the layers and change the Blending Mode to Color Dodge.

Step 9 – After this select from the menu bar Filter->Blur->Gaussian Blur and choose the radius to your own specifications so that it reveals the outlines. In this case the radius is chosen to be 6.0.

Step 10 – Now merge the selected layer with the one below it and let us rename the new layer as ‘Layer 1’. [Ctrl+E]

Step 11 – Now drag this layer ‘Layer 1’ to the layer stack in the layer palette.

Step 12 – Now change the Blending Mode in the mode option to Multiply.

Step 13Unhide the layer which was hidden in the Step 3.

Steps 14 – After this flatten the Image. This is done by Select Layer->Flatten Image. [Ctrl+Shift+E]

Step 15Duplicate the flattened Layer.

Step 16 –From the menu bar select Filter->Texture->Texturizer.  Select the ‘Sandstone Texure’. Choose ‘Scaling’ and ‘Relief’ upon your own requirements of the photo. Here Scaling has been taken as 12 and relief as 35.

Step 17 – Adjust the ‘Opacity’ of this layer to your own taste. Here opacity has been taken as 85%.

Step 18Flatten the Image.

Step 19 – For the final touches select Image->Adjustments->Shadows/Highlights & choose the values of the same to the photo of yours.

From a beautiful photograph with well defined shadows and colors, in a few steps we have managed to produce an extremely beautiful charcoal image. The final image looks like a work of art to a person unaware of the beauty of Photoshop.


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Hector is a freelance writer, providing high quality services to clients across the globe.